History professor Stephen Mihm has a new column at Bloomberg.com on the origins of selective admissions processes to elite American colleges and universities, particulalry the promotion of geographical diversity:
the number of top-achieving high school seniors who made the cut at the most elite universities reached record lows this year. Stanford, for example, only admitted 5 percent of applicants, the fewest in its history; other top institutions reported similar numbers.
This may look like meritocracy reaching its ultimate rarefaction, yet the motives that led top colleges and universities to introduce highly selective admissions a century ago were far from lofty. The aim was to keep out one group in particular: Jews.
Until the turn of the last century, there was no such thing as “selective admissions,” even at the top universities. If students could pass an entrance exam, or belonged to the right family, they were in. There was no dossier, no need to show that you were “well-rounded.”
Nor was there any pretense of seeking diversity. Ivy League schools in the early 19th century were remarkably homogenous. The standard class at Harvard, for example, contained a staggering number of white Protestants drawn from elite families in Massachusetts.
Difficult for a practice with such specious origins to ever really redeem itself. And now, as Mihm explains, selective admissions has been folded into a highly elaborate process that raises serious questions about the future of American society. Where do we go from here? These are some of the real challenges facing American higher education. On verra, as they say. Honest take on a tough subject by Mihm.